Welcome to the Dark Side of the Moon

John C. Martin, CIO, Georgia Department of Natural Resources
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John C. Martin, CIO, Georgia Department of Natural Resources

John C. Martin, CIO, Georgia Department of Natural Resources

Wikipedia says: “The “dark side of the Moon” does not refer to “dark” as in the absence of light, but rather “dark” as in unknown .” That is kind of what the public sector was to me before taking a job in the government sector in 2008. Being an older professional, I also knew it as a 1973 Pink Floyd Album, which for me related perfectly to something unknown to me, an IT environment in the public sector. You see after 25 years in the private sector and a very short retirement, I decided to perform my civic duty and take a job in state government. However, what I quickly discovered was I was now in a strange new world. Yes, the “bits and bytes” were the same, but many of the lessons that I had learned in my career where foreign to this environment. You see, it was not only years behind in terms of technology, process, and technical understanding, but also a world that really didn’t completely some newer technological concepts! “What do you mean you never heard of ITIL?” No virtualization is not a gaming option for Xbox! However, there are concepts such as “Dark Data,” “Disruptive Innovation,” “Mydeation” and “Growth Hacking” that can help you to not only adapt, but to thrive in this new environment. However in keeping with my original Pink Floyd theme, I organized my thought based on the 10 songs in their 1973 album:

1. Speak to MeRemember some common myths about “Disruptive Innovation”: (1) Innovation only comes from new ideas: (2) Big Success requires BIG Resources: (3) Innovation breakthroughs are ALWAYS based on new and fascinating technologies. ALL FALSE! Just like with most criteria for success, you need to spend more time listening than talking. Look inside your organization and convince them to re-invent your service/product using existing technologies.

 As Einstein said “Time is relative”, and it is never more fitting than when comparing how quickly things can get accomplished in the public sector 

2. BreatheDevelop a five year strategy, but understand that it will likely need to be adjusted with each budget cycle. The environment was working before you came and will continue to survive whether you take the organization in a new direction or not! So take a deep breath, and work to develop an organizational “Innovative Culture” that will survive long after you are gone.

3. On the RunUse some modern concepts such as “Growth Hacking” to find innovative, inexpensive ‘hacks’ to significantly boost your organization’s Technology Eco-system. Growth hacking usually includes building innovative features into a service that lead users to share it virally, doing something unique and buzz-worthy that gets a lot of free press or helps tap into communities or social networks in ways that boost attention to your mission. So work to find ways to let your customers/ citizens re-energize your product.

4. TimeAs Einstein said “Time is relative,” and it is never more fitting than when comparing how quickly things can get accomplished in the public sector. What may take several weeks to purchase and install a new server in the private sector, could easily now take several months. Breath in, breath out, move on!

5. The Great Gig in the Sky–“Big Data”—I know that it is the latest and greatest topic on everyone’s mind, but understand that to create, store, and analyze this data is extremely costly. I know that the ROI may show the great value, but you now live in the world of OpEx!

6. Money- Having come from a world where I could sell any concept to senior management provided it demonstrated a great ROI, you are now in the world of living budget cycle to budget cycle. CapEx is practically dead here, but the good news is OpEx in alive and growing. So flip the switch from a CapEx to an OpEx mindset.

7. Us and Them If you haven’t realized it yet don’t waste your time comparing your current state to those in the private sector. That doesn’t mean you can’t strive to drive your organization in a new direction, it just means with the political/bureaucratic culture and the funding available, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. There is no Us and Them, only We!

8. Any Color You Like–Just like Henry Ford said (1909); “A customer can have a car painted any color he wants as long as it’s black.” Overcome “this is the way we have always done it” by using a concept known as “Mydeation”, which uses an internal group (like a brainstorming session) to help your organization solve a pressing challenge. So find new ways to energize the current technology stacks by adding newer “use” options.

9. Brain DamageIt might sometimes appear that those who have spent their careers in the government sector do not think so clearly about technology options. However, it usually is really a factor of them not being exposed to the possibilities that have existed in a free-wheeling market driven technology ecosystem. SO enlighten your organization to the possibilities!

10. Eclipse– “Dark Data”-Look around and see what data already exists without chasing the latest and greatest. Your organization has already invested a lot of money in creating it, and although it was created for a specific purpose, ask yourself; “In what new ways can my customers (citizens) consume that data and to provide a better product?”

All of that being said, I have really enjoyed my nine years in the public sector. However, please understand that these musings are really “The World According to John,” and your results may vary! But if you do find yourself in my situation, remember what Roger Waters penned in his song Eclipse on the Dark Side of the Moon album:

And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear
You shout and no one seems to hear
And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes
I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon
Well said Roger………. Well said!

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